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Signature Slim

Local blues singer Sarasota Slim talks about his new disc, why he cut his ponytail and his dream dinner companions.

By GINA VIVINETTO, Times Pop Music Critic
© St. Petersburg Times
published December 27, 2001

ST. PETERSBURG -- Gene Hardage, 45, makes his living playing the guitar and singing the blues.

Of course, you know him as Sarasota Slim.

Born in the Panhandle, raised in Sarasota and now living in St. Petersburg, he calls himself a "true Florida cracker."

Boney Fingers, his new disc, is rich in hard-hitting R&B, boogie woogie, Slim's signature humor and -- get this -- even a bit of Seattle-style grunge.

In a breakthrough for 10 Pressing Questions, Mr. Slim, our first local artist to do so, tackles tough queries about his music idols, his hairdo and the good blues food.

(1) After more than two decades performing music, what surprises you?

That young kids cite me as some kind of influence now, believe it or not. Well, I'm an old geezer, so, it makes sense. But all these young kids are stealing my gigs! (Laughs.)

(2) Your influences?

Mine are all the singers: Bobby Bland, Little Milton, Wilson Pickett. Anybody with great soul.

(3) Why are you so darn slim?

I'm one of those people everyone hates. The only exercise I get is loading in and loading out (his musical equipment) and mowing the lawn. I'm 6 feet tall, 155 pounds. I was 125 pounds when I met Alison (his wife).

(4) What's good blues food?

A plate of vegetables and corn bread. I'm into greens, soul food, or Southern cooking, I should say. In Georgia, it's just food. But I like it. And I like my tea sweet, too. (Laughs.)

(5) I notice the new short hair. What made you cut the trademark ponytail?

It was getting thin. I'm not going to be an aging hippie, no way. I don't want to look like a scraggly old bum. Alison cut it.

You clean up nice.

I look like a stealth guy. I could hang out at her father's place tonight and nobody would even notice me. (Laughs.)

(6) You think your wife, knowing what she knows now, would have preferred to marry a banker instead of a bluesman?

Oh, I'm sure she would. Talk to her. Oh, man, that poor woman. Fifteen years with one nincompoop.

(7) What do you think about the local blues scene right now?

There's an awful lot of groups out there playing some degree of blues. They're playing gigs and getting work. There are lots of highlights. I'm up on Shawn Brown. Go to 10 Beach Drive and watch this guy play keyboards like a monster and sing like an angel. He's it.

You were real close with the late Rock Bottom.

He's the one who got me started all those years ago.

(8) What do you think of all these new young blues players, kids like Jonny Lang and Derek Trucks and Shannon Curfman?

That's all over the country. I can't figure it out. I'm not resentful of it. Unless it's a put-on thing. But if they respect the music, great.

(9) Who's sitting at your dream dinner table?

Jimi Hendrix, Duane Allman, Albert King. All my guitar idols.

You've been able to hang out with many living legends. I've seen pictures of you with Bobby Bland and Koko Taylor, Etta James.

I don't claim to know any of them. These meetings were ever so brief. But I'd like to think if they saw me again, they'd remember me, or my music, or at least they'd say, "Oh, there's that white boy who was nice."

(10) Got a New Year's resolution?

To try to keep a positive attitude. If I were a pop singer, I'd be happy and bubbly all the time. I'm a blues singer; I get depressed.

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